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How A Heart Rate Monitor Saved My first Half Ironman

Dave CattanachDave Cattanach writes about his experiences of utilising the Heart rate Monitor in his training quests and participating in the Ironman Canada event..

Using a Heart Rate Monitor takes the guesswork out of your runs and this case, a triathlon. I had used a Heart Rate Monitor for several years, particularly for marathon training. These simple to use devices enable us to train at the right intensity. We need to know what our heart rate is to enable us to follow a proper training program with a mix of speed or interval workouts, tempo runs, recovery runs and longer runs all done in your target heart rate zone.

To figure out what your target heart rate zone for a particular workout is, you first need to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). There are many formulas to calculate your MHR. One that I have used in the past was:

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 – “your age”

This meant for myself, at 46 years old, my MHR should be approximately 174.

Another popular method, developed by Runner’s World, and known to be more accurate is as follows:

For runners under 40: MHR = 208 – (.7 x your age)

For runners 40 and over MHR = 205 – (.5 x your age)

However, I found that during my workouts that I could never get my heart rate over 161, even after interval training or doing hill repeats. So, by performing my highest intensity workouts proved to be the most accurate method to figure out my own personal MHR. This understanding of your heart rate only comes after a bit of time training with your heart rate monitor, but could prove to be more accurate than the above formulas.

Once I had determined my appropriate MHR and using the following as a guide, I could use the following percentages for my training program. This meant that I would be training with a heart rate of somewhere between 113 and 145.

Recovery, Long or Easy Runs.. …………………………………65%-75%
Tempo runs………………….. …………………………………..87%-92%
Interval Repeats (shorter bursts of speed during your run)..95%-100%

With that as a theoretical background, how did the Heart Rate Monitor actually work for me? My wife and I train together, running up to 5 times a week. Being an Engineer, I found the data that the heart rate monitor provided fascinating, especially when comparing it to my training partner’s data. Through these comparisons, I learned how individual this information is. For instance, at the beginning of the long runs my heart rate would start off at 120 and stay in that range for the first hour or so (remember, these were marathon training runs) and then slowly rise to about 140. I could sustain 140 for approximately 2 hours. Then, as I got more tired and couldn’t run as fast, my heart rate would drop again to 120 or even lower as I alternated between walking and running. My wife’s would do the opposite; she would start high, and then slowly drop.

After 5 or 6 marathons and lots of short and Olympic length triathlons it was time to take the next step – a Half Ironman. By this time in my running career I was only using the Heart Rate Monitor occasionally, just to confirm that the zones were still accurate.

The Half Ironman we chose to participate in was located in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The day of the race was hot, over 30 degrees. The bike course involved three 30 km hilly loops and since I am not a strong cyclist, I hated the course and was delighted to get off the bike and start the run. There were 3 of us that started the run together, which was a scenic two loop course around the Beaver and Elk Lakes. The real value of my heart rate monitor came into play as within minutes, although I felt good, I knew by my heart rate that I was going to fast. My friends were doing fine, but it was important that I didn’t get caught up in their pace, so I decided that it was best for me to slow down. I stayed within my allowable heart rate, kept a steady pace, and eventually I was able to catch up again and we all finished together. If I didn’t have my heart rate monitor on, I am convinced that I would have kept a faster pace and eventually bonked and either walked or crawled through the finish line.

Two years later and using the same methodology for determining and training within my proper heart rate zones, myself and my wife were able to successfully complete Ironman Canada in beautiful Penticton British Columbia.

Dave Cattanach has enjoyed running and triathlons for the past 20 years. Dave’s wife, Jacquie provides tips and advice for runners on

Further articles of interest in this Heart Rate section .

Training to improve Aerobic power utilising Heart Rate

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